With a notoriously schizoid tendency to waver between smugness and insecurity about their own attributes, Minnesotans may be genuinely shocked when it finally sinks in that the Dakota ranks among the premier jazz clubs in the known world. It's long been an open secret shared by jazz's elite musicians, nearly all of whom, over the past couple of decades, have graced the Dakota stage in St. Paul and more recently in downtown Minneapolis. The success stems from the enlightened management of Lowell Pickett, who cares deeply about the music and consistently books an exciting blend of musical legends, up-and-comers, local stalwarts, and even youngsters representing the next generation of jazz greats. International artists like Malian Toumani Diabaté and Brazilian Ivan Lins, blues greats like the Holmes Brothers, and a steady post-Katrina stream of characters like Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint, and Irvin Mayfield from the other end of the Mississippi have diversified the Dakota's lineup in recent years. Friday and Saturday late-night sessions have opened things up even more. Then there are the outstanding features that we've come to expect from the Dakota: great sound; an intimate, convivial atmosphere that often feels like the band is set up in your living room; and a brilliantly conceived and executed menu. New York, Paris, Timbuktu: The Dakota ranks with the best.